How the Sharing Economy Can Create Value from Waste

recycle africa

I couldn’t agree more with the point that Jeremy Rifkin makes in the third part of his series on the Third Industrial Revolution — countries that entered the 21st century with the most minimal infrastructure stand to gain the most in the coming decades. The benefits of building a state-of-the-art distributed infrastructure from the bottom up far outweigh the liabilities faced in starting from scratch.

The world’s fastest growing cities will enjoy undreamed-of agility thanks to these decentralized services — water, power, broadband Internet — which are capable of being expanded and reconfigured in response to urban development and climate challenges.

Vast possibilities exist beyond the urban environment. In Africa, Asia and the Americas, the countries which sat out the Industrial Revolution are already seeing local communities rapidly connecting to each other and the outside world via mobile technology. Thanks to the spread of cellular access and cheap phones in these countries, people in geographically isolated areas with unreliable power will increasingly have access to utilities, medical services, law enforcement and mobile phone-based commercial transactions both locally and globally.

A child holds up a toy truck he made out of recycled garbage near Johannesburg, South Africa. (MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)

On the other hand, I don’t agree with Rifkin’s claim that “all economic activity comes from harnessing available energy in nature.” So-called waste becomes value when technology distributes it to those who would find it valuable. For example, when I finish Rifkin’s book “The Empathic Civilization,” I can offer my copy to someone who hasn’t read it yet. I will use no wood or coal or carbon in this exchange, yet value will be created nonetheless.

Today, thankfully, value arises through the redistribution, repurposing and reassignment of nature’s energy without extracting or expending more. —> Read More